Open gallery Close by Matt Saunders 8 December 2014 Follow @TheDarkStormy1 Share
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More than 20 years ago, long before the city car class blossomed to accommodate the diverse range of models you’ll find in it today, a 3.4m, three-door, left-hand-drive-only Renault proved that small could once again sell in big numbers.
Offered with only one engine and in one trim level, the 1992 Twingo was a bold, characterful and utterly distinctive urban runabout of simplicity, compactness, value and abundant flair. It was more desirable than a Fiat Panda and more modern than a Mini and it beat the Ford Ka to market by several years.
The Twingo faces stiff competition from the VW Up, Fiat Panda and Hyundai i10Matt SaundersRoad test editor
It was a hard act to follow. Launched in 2007, the second-generation Twingo should have built on its predecessor’s success but it never hit the sales heights of the Mk1.
Renault started work on a better-packaged, more original replacement in 2008. A rear-engined platform was the only way to take the car forwards, as Renault saw it, but prohibitively expensive.
Then along came Daimler, which needed something similar for its Smart brand, and a future for the Twingo was secured.
Time to find out exactly what that future looks, sounds and drives like.
Verdict Model tested: Rating:
Renault Twingo 2014-2019
GoodStylish and alternativeClever smartphone integrationManoeuvrable in townBadShort on spaceSanitised handlingLackluster performance and economy
DESIGN & STYLING
The original Twingo’s origins are a matter of debate. The car bears a striking resemblance to a prototype built by Polish manufacturer FSM for a project with which Renault was also involved.
The car was called the Beskid and the story goes that FSM never extended its patent. The Renault Twingo emerged on the market shortly after it expired.
The rear-engined layout was meant to make pedestrian protection better but has had mixed successMark TisshawEditor
Renault’s Mk3 Twingo was signed off in 2010, when the company’s tie-up with Daimler was inked. It was first previewed by the Twin’Run and Twin’Z concepts.
The biggest gain for the Twingo earned from its move to a rear-mounted engine, we’re told, is packaging – and good packaging is critical at this end of the market.
At just under 3.6m long, the new car is almost 100mm shorter than its predecessor, 90mm shorter than a Fiat Panda and 70mm shorter than a Hyundai i10. But it’s not the shortest car of its kind.
All three of the Volkswagen Group’s Slovakian-built sister models and the Citroën-Peugeot-Toyota triplets – five-door five-seaters all – require 100mm less space at the kerb. On the spec sheet, the Volkswagen Up also trumps the Renault on boot space, as does the i10. So there’s reason to be a touch suspicious about Renault’s claims that this car is packaging marvel.
The rear-mounted motor does bring other benefits. The entry-level 999cc naturally aspirated three-cylinder SCe petrol engine is mounted transversely, inclined by 49deg and reconfigured for compactness. It produces 69bhp and 67lb ft and drives the rear wheels via a five-speed manual gearbox. This version, called the SCe 70, is also available with a stop/start system – a variant dubbed the SCe 70 Stop & Start.
Those are competitive but unexceptional outputs, but more puff can be had from a range-topping turbocharged 898cc model called the Energy TCe 90 Stop & Start. It produces a more respectable 89bhp and 100lb ft. While the recent addition to the engine range is exclusively used to power the Twingo GT which produces 108bhp and 125lb ft of peak twist from the same engine block.
With no engine to encumber them, the Twingo’s front wheels can turn through 45deg of steering lock in either direction – about 50 percent more than most front-engined cars’. The turning circle is just 8.6m; again, beatable, but solely in a Toyota iQ.
The Twingo is constructed of high-strength steel but has a ‘soft’ frontal section featuring bonnet, bumper and front wings made of Noryl memory plastic, which is light, good on pedestrian protection and pops back into shape after a minor ding. Suspension is via independent struts at the front and a de Dion torsion beam at the rear.
Committing to a rear-engined construction can’t have been an easy thing for safety-conscious Renault. As Daimler discovered with Smart more than a decade ago, front-engined cars tend to perform better in frontal crash tests because the weight of their engines doesn’t add to the deformation of the passenger compartment. In a like-for-like frontal crash, the average rear-engined car has 150kg of engine and transmission trying to force its way through the cabin.
Renault’s answer to this for the Twingo was to engineer crash pathways that force the engine down under the cabin floor in the event of a serious collision. Elsewhere, the car’s bodyshell is designed for particular strength in the transmission tunnel, sills and doors in order to preserve the integrity of the cockpit.
The car missed a five-star crash rating by Euro NCAP, scoring only 78 percent for adult occupant protection and 68 percent for pedestrian protection, despite its extensive ‘soft’ nose and under-bumper padding.